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Global California contra greater California.

The way we frame California's past is of incalculable importance to the way we see ourselves and the rest of the world. Because the Pacific Rim has long been essential to California's development, I commend much of Thomas Osborne's essay. But I shall advocate a much wider view of California's past than the Pacific Rim regionalism that he proposes. Recasting our teaching practices for new generations of global Californians in the twenty-first century requires a recognition that California has been global since the first humans settled here. Indeed, to focus mainly on the Pacific actually misses the most important of California's global influences. Geographically, it misses those running to and from Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. Thematically, Osborne misses three world-transforming sectors that have made California not only global but extraterrestrial in the twentieth century: oil, motion pictures, and aerospace.


Hundreds of thousands of high school and college students read the textbooks that are the target of Osborne's critique, so the stakes are very high. With only one exception--Cherny et al.'s Competing Visions: A History of California (2005)--Osborne criticizes "historians of the Golden State" for not having "clearly situated California's past within the context of the Pacific world, nor within that of the Ear Western region of the United States, nor internationally." Surely, Osborne has overreached in this claim. Indeed, all of the textbooks rebuked by Osborne situate the state's past at least within its Far Western and international contexts. (1)

For example, while Rawls and Bean's California: An Interpretive History may not carry a global or Pacific Rim framework throughout the entire volume, its first four chapters explore the origins of California's indigenous populations, the Spanish conquest as a part of the Bourbon dynasty's global strategies, and many other global events. Indeed, any competent history of California prior to the U.S. conquest of 1846-48 must perforce tell continental and global stories, and it is nearly impossible to recount California's late-nineteenth-century history apart from its Far Western context (e.g., its role in the Sectional Crisis, mineral rushes, and transcontinental railroads). This tradition in general-market historiography is very old indeed. Hubert Howe Bancroft's seven-volume (multiauthor) History of California series (1884-90) devotes its first two volumes, totaling 1,539 pages, to the Spanish and Mexican periods of California history, paying close attention to viceregal and royal political stories, from Monterrey to Mexico City to Seville and Madrid. (2)

If anything, Osborne's stories--of Spanish explorers and settlers, of trade routes across the Pacific (the ubiquitous Manila Galleon), and of Pacific Rim individuals or immigration streams--as well as his selection of themes--are all too familiar in much of the existing textbooks and in general-market scholarship on California.


Osborne admirably reserves a separate section for "Pacific imaginings." The global imaginary of California is of the first order of importance for understanding its past: so many millions have been attracted here for so many reasons. But the three international expositions discussed by Osborne--the Midwinter International Exposition (1893-94), the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (1915), and the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-40)--are but a small slice of the global imaginary and, again, are already a very familiar part of traditional California lore. Though they were global events, they pale in comparison to the world-transforming motion picture industry, the most global of California industries.

The motion picture industry was built by global immigrant entrepreneurs from eastern and western Europe. Its products have captured the attention and loyalties of audiences in every corner of the world so powerfully that many nations have been forced to restrict American movie imports to keep their own movie sectors solvent or to block U.S. (actually, Californian) cultural influences. (3) And while Osborne's example of surf culture seems to point clearly in the direction of Hawai'i, consider the case of Dick Dale (b. 1937), the "King of Surf Guitar." Born Richard Anthony Monsour in Boston of a Lebanese father and a Polish mother, Dale learned Middle Eastern scales from his uncle, an oud player. With those Middle Eastern scales, Dale shaped California's surf culture with "The Wedge" and other great hits, including his surf-rock version of the traditional Greek and Middle Eastern "Misirlou" ("Egyptian Girl"). (4)

The other truly Californian global sector, aeronautics/aerospace, is another part of the global imaginary that was headquartered worldwide in southern California. Even within the constrained global frame of the "Pacific world," American air power designed and built by Californians was the key to victory in the Pacific war. This global story is too vast for the scope of this essay, but suffice it to say that the entire ICBM program--including the Saturn V rocket that forty years ago put two men on the moon--was based in California. The U.S. Air Force regularly tests its missiles by targeting the Kawajalien Atoll, an important part of California's Pacific orientation. But the U.S. space program can hardly be limited to the Pacific. Every day for generations, spacecraft orbiting other planets have been piloted by engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. (5)


There may be an attraction to establishing a "Pacific world" field of studies analogous to the "Atlantic world" field that has produced so much fresh scholarship on the history of the eastern seaboard, Europe, Latin America, and Africa. But though the "Pacific world" or "Basin" or "Rim" is an important and necessary part of California's global past, California should be seen as a global intersection, with world lines running in all directions.

The argument that the Pacific is a special or dominant orientation would need to rest on the relative strength of the influences flowing from different continents. I counter Osborne's case with the claim that at least half of California's most influential global relations run either eastward or southward. Oil, another major global California sector, is an example. California was powerfully shaped by the political economy of petroleum, via J. Paul Getty, Edward Doheny, UNOCAL, Occidental Petroleum, and Standard Oil of California. These magnates and corporations were part of a global oil regime that ran through northern Veracruz in Mexico's Huasteca region to the Middle East and even into Russia (but not Russia's Pacific coast).

Doheny cofounded the Mexican oil industry (on its Atlantic coast) with profits pumped from Los Angeles. J. Paul Getty took his Los Angeles oil fortunes to Saudi Arabia, playing a crucial role in developing that country's oil regime under its king, Abdul Aziz Al Saud (Ibn Saud). California oilmen were founders, in 1933, with Crown Prince Saud, of what is today the world's largest oil corporation, the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), which began as a Saudi government concession to Standard Oil of California (long known as SoCal, later renamed Chevron). These lines of influence face eastward from California and don't match the Pacific world theme. In my estimation, any new paradigm for framing California's past that cannot accommodate these world-historic themes with eastward and southerly, non-Pacific Rim linkages should be treated with great skepticism. (6)



A range of available surveys published in the last several decades do take an emphatically global approach to California's past. (7) The late Ronald Takaki long ago rethought California history by setting Asians and other non-Europeans on center stage. Do we not already have a firm foundation for rethinking the globalism of California's and America's past with such classics as Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (1989) and A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (1993)? These should receive attention because they offer a much deeper and richer approach to Asian influences on California, and California influences on Asia, than Osborne's sketch of those relations suggests. The poet Gary Snyder is certainly a major landmark in California letters, but so are Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan. European Californians who have been influenced by Asian culture are a very traditional story, after all, because the perspective is that of the conqueror, no matter how refined and pacifist any particular member of that group is. I am sure that Osborne would include a study of Asian immigrant or immigrant-descended writers in his framework and is not excluding them intentionally, but his choices of examples run in limited directions.


My own views on how best to portray the past of California are admittedly a product of my work. Readers should understand that I am now finishing a global history of Los Angeles since the first human settlers arrived about 13,000 years ago. Having devoted more than a decade to this research, I am understandably prone to advocate the model that I use to widen our understanding of California's past. Because my criticism of Osborne's approach is rather sweeping, it is incumbent upon me to offer a positive program in the place of one I am criticizing. In the spirit of putting two contrasting perspectives into dialogue, I will briefly sketch what I think is a more thoroughgoing "rethinking" of California history.

My contrasting geohistorical approach to the past is best represented by a forthcoming essay titled "Ab urbe condita: The Regional Regimes of the Los Angeles Basin since 13,000 B.P.," in which I argue that the place called Los Angeles has been ruled by nine overlapping regional regimes of political economic practice and culture. While they are drawn specifically for Los Angeles, they overlap very much with California as a whole.

Vital to understanding the globalism of California is its indigenous past. All Native "first peoples" of California were migrants from far away. Algonquians from the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence drainage evidently made the transcontinental trek at some point and settled on the Northwest coast; today they are known as the Yuroks. The Hupa, who settled along the Trinity River at the time of European contact, were, like the Navajo, migrants from the Athabaskan homeland in Alaska and Northwest Canada. (8) The story I tell for Los Angeles in "Ab urbe condita" focuses on the Uto-Aztecans (called Gabrielino by the Spanish and Tongva by themselves), who, as the name implies, were one migratory branch of a group that also migrated southward and ruled Mesoamerica from Tenochtitlan when Cortes arrived in 1519.

Every phase of California's past has been shaped by some mixture of global influences. In "Ab urbe condita," I have constructed an account of the transmission of political-economic culture from earlier to later regional regimes through a process of mentorship that linked many generations of Los Angeles leaders: gabrielino, hispano, mexicano, californio, and estadounidense. The globalism that I seek to recount in southern California's past is the abiding influence of the Uto-Aztecan, Spanish, and Mexican periods on the later U.S. regimes, which, I argue, has been significantly underestimated by most scholars who have likewise underestimated the shaping influence of the regional-scale context: the Spanish borderlands. Much of the state's institutional growth was inscribed into the Pacific Slope by the Spanish and Mexicans in terms of governing and economic relations, and very little of that influence was Pacific in orientation. Monterrey and Mexico City were the metropoles that commanded the attention of the European settlers during the Spanish and Mexican periods.

I do not suggest that we view all of California's history through the lens of southern California's history. Were I to write a history of all of California, however, I would apply the same principle: that California has been global in all directions. Asian influences have been very important, but by the time Asian immigrants began to settle in California, the basic governing and economic institutions long ago had been established by the indigenous, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo rulers. Trade with the Pacific Rim is certainly a major feature of the state's history, but trade does not necessarily carry lasting institutional or cultural influences. How exactly these long-term institutional and cultural influences became inscribed into this territory, and then captured Washington during the national regimes of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, is a story that I tell at length in my book-in-progress. Readers will judge for themselves how persuasively I make that case. (9)

If the Pacific Rim is too constraining for the nearly limitless globalism of California, "Greater California" is not only an order of magnitude smaller, it is unfortunately wrongheaded. At best, the standard usage for this "Greater" construction is merely a way to express a metropolitan region, as in Greater New York or Greater Miami. It is also the way kingdoms are welded together, as in Great Britain, whose "greatness" took several centuries of warfare and crushed rebellions to achieve. The phrase also calls to mind far less savory precedents, including the "Greater Germany" in the 1930s and 1940s, and "Greater Serbia" in the 1990s. Given that the Republic of Mexico was required to fight off several armed attempts by California filibusters to grab or annex its northern states, "Greater California" is a term that should be studiously avoided. At the very least, why further inflame the resentful Oregonians with their "Californians Go Home" bumper stickers?

Professor Osborne has been a pioneer in the field of California's global past, with his fine work on the Hawaiian connection. (10) I wholly endorse his commitment to tracing California's past far beyond its borders. But his attempt to stamp that global history as a Pacific regional one will provide only a part of California's past, and not even the most important part.


(1) Titles that, according to Osborne, "do not take a broader spatial and thematic approach" include: James J. Rawls and Walton Bean, California: An Interpretive History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008); Richard B. Rice et al., The Elusive Eden: A New History of California (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002); Andrew Rolle and Arthur Verge, California: A History (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson Inc, 2008).

(2) Hubert Howe Bancroft [et al], History of California, 7 vols. (San Francisco: History Company Publishers, 1884-90); vols. 1 (1542-1800, 744 PP.) and II (1801-24, 795 pp). The first volume opens with a daunting, 50-page list of international sources.

(3) Philip J. Ethington, "Global Spaces of Los Angeles, 1920s-1930s," in Gyan Prakash and Kevin Kruse, eds., 58-98, The Spaces of the Modern CltF Imaginaries, Politics, and Everyday Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

(4) "Dick Dale," Wikipedia, http:// (acc. July 20, 2009).

(5) Ethington, "Global Spaces of Los Angeles," 58-98.

(6) Philip J. Ethington, "Ab arbe condita: The Regional Regimes of Los Angeles since 13,000 Before Present," in William Deverell and Greg Hise, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Los Angeles (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, forthcoming 2OLO).

(7) Two recent examples: Valerie Matsumoto and Blake Allmendinger, eds., Over the Edge: Remapping The American West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); California figures prominently in many of the essays collected in Thomas Bender, ed., Rethinking American History in a Global Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

(8) Robert F. Heizer, Languages, Territories, and Names of California Indian Tribes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966); Alfred L. Kroeber, Handbook of the Indians of California, Washington, DC: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 78, 1925.

(9) Philip Ethington, Ghost Metropolis: Los Angeles since 13,000 BP (under consideration by University of California Press).

(10) Thomas J. Osborne, "Empire Can Wait": American Opposition to Hawaiian Annexation, 1893-1898 (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1981).

PHILIP J. ETHINGTON is Professor of History and Political Science at the University of Southern California and North American Editor and Multimedia Editor for the Journal of Urban History.
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Author:Ethington, Philip J.
Publication:California History
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2009
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